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“Why The Lucky Stiff” Is Missing

By Peter Cooper / August 19, 2009


Long-time Rubyist and the community's own resident crazy genius, whytheluckystiff (a.k.a. _why) seems to have gone missing. Not only has he deleted his Twitter account (@_why) but his Github repositories and all of his great Ruby related Web sites -,,, and are all down and not even resolving at DNS level.

The Poignant Guide, Hpricot, Markaby, RedCloth, Shoes, Camping, and Try Ruby (a Web version of irb) are considered important by Rubyists not only for their usefulness but for their significant contribution to Ruby's culture, and if _why has truly fallen off the grid, it's a big deal. That said, this appears to be either a deliberate attempt to disappear or a major hack and not just a bunch of coincidental outages. In either case, hopefully he'll be back soon.

What's the motive? We have nothing definite, but Hacker News user fizx quoted a recent tweet from why before he deleted his account:

programming is rather thankless. u see your works become replaced by superior ones in a year. unable to run at all in a few more.

Meanwhile, Twitter users are going bonkers over the news:

Do you know anything or do you just want to show some appreciation to why (he used to read Ruby Inside so he might see this)? Leave a comment! Lastly, if you're reading _why, I hope everything's okay and if you want to release any sort of statement through us, just get in touch.


  1. Pharrisee says:

    Just noticed this on _why's github account:

    why created repository lol just now
    New repository is at why/lol

  2. Matt Todd says:

    Why the Lucky Stiff truly was an inspiration to me: he introduced me not only to the beauty of the Ruby language through his incredibly inspiring Poignant Guide to Ruby, he really stretched my imagination and creativity. His artwork (including his code) is both whimsically wonderful and certainly contagious!

    I understand not feeling valued, and perhaps we've taken advantage of the fact that we could depend upon this pillar of eccentric creativity, but we certainly do notice when such a huge character that's both given a subtly curious shape to our ever growing community and contributed quite thanklessly to our libraries, code, and minds.

  3. Jeff says:

    I'm not the biggest fan of _why's writing, but his code is awesome. I used "TryRuby" with many people and new Ruby students. HacketyHack was very cool and seemed to be developing a community. I use RedCloth and Hpricot on just about every project.

    Hopefully this gets explained or resolved. I saw a post a few weeks ago about "discovering" _why's identity -- I hope people who know him can make contact and help us all understand.

  4. Peter Cooper says:

    I think someone created a new Github account just for fun. Because of this I tried signing up as _why on Twitter just to hold the account so some nutjob doesn't get hold of it, but it wouldn't let me.

  5. Adam Gardner says:

    If _why is really gone, it'd be a pretty huge blow to the Ruby community. I've never met him, never communicated directly with him... but he communicated with me, I must say. The Little Coder's Predicament and Hackety Hack were particularly important, and the poignant guide was... well... poignant.

    Of course in a strictly technical sense it will be possible for others to pick up these projects if he's really gone; but a lot of the joy would be gone from them.

    I hope he's ok, and I hope he comes back.

  6. Dylan Clendenin says:

    I hope the guy is OK too but no more than usual.

    Nobody seems to think he just got tired of the Internet. The man can sure keep a secret. I really admire him for that.

  7. Jeremy Woertink says:

    OH NOES! He took his shoes and ran :(

  8. Jason says:

    Who cares. Get a life people.

    There are plenty of community members out there. I still love Rails.

    Even if DHH decided to up and leave, I'd still love Rails.
    It's like the presidency. It's not just the man, it's the idea.

  9. Peter Cooper says:

    Nick Quaranto has produced a commemorative milk carton for this occasion.

  10. schwabsauce says:

    _why has always been pretty shy, which is a good reason for us all to be even more appreciative of the great things he shared.

    He may be feeling a little down in the dumps, but I don't exactly imagine that giving him a lot of attention will help that. I'm reminded of Chris Wanstrath's keynote that advocated trying to be a good programmer rather than a famous one. _why's reluctant publicity was a help and a joy to many. Still, it's easy to imagine him feeling frustrated that those projects didn't reach even further in the ample time that they have been available. Remember the first page of the poignant guide, which declared that learning Ruby was becoming so easy that even a baby could do it?

    I think we need to take Chris' advice and strive to match _why's code quality, in both Ruby and C, rather than hold him on a pedestal of unattainable code quality.

  11. David Parker says:

    _why's Poignant guide is the reason I got into Ruby. I would be quite surprised if he actually removed everything himself-- he seems to be all about helping others learn to program/Ruby.

  12. Jason L Perry says:

    Yes, _was_ deleted and is now parked for the time being.

  13. Kevin Ballard says:

    His DNS is still working. I just ran `dig +trace` and it came up with the correct answer, according to The only DNS that doesn't work is, but that's hosted on the same box so of course it's not responding.

  14. Stephen Stillwater says:

    It's sad if _why has left Ruby behind, but I have to echo one of the sentiments expressed above.

    What if he just wants to be left alone?

    Surely someone in the Ruby community must know him personally. If he was dead/kidnapped/sick/etc., they'd make some sort of announcement. Everyone trying to track him down to find out where's he's gone and why seems somewhat invasive.

  15. John Leach says:

    _why is the like a digital Andy Kaufman.

  16. Ric Roberts says:

    Peter, you are 'some nutjob'. :)

  17. Peter Cooper says:

    Ric: Well yeah, but I'm a nutjob with morals :P

  18. ktulhu says:

    Perhaps, he started to erase personal history.

  19. Ben says:

    I think he is just (successfully) amplifying the mystery behind himself. This is, after all, how he has become an internet celebrity of sorts. Sure, he did some cool stuff and wrote some good code, but so do many others that have no online reputation. He is up there with Ze Frank in the online self marketing realm.

  20. Jan Wedekind says:

    Maybe he mistakenly run his selfdestruct.rb which removes the websites, accounts, wipes the harddisk, and then blows up the house.

    At least I hope it's no more serious than that :(

  21. Nick Quaranto says:

    That milk carton isn't my creation. I've been trying to find out how I found it, but I mostly blame @defunkt.

  22. Nick Quaranto says:

    Found it!

  23. Mat Schaffer says:

    So long and thanks for all the chunky bacon!

  24. Jose Narvaez says:

    Why's, hope everything is fine!

  25. Ben Atkin says:

    Peter, yeah, if you delete your twitter account, it holds your name for an unspecified amount of time. If you ever want to create a new twitter account to replace an old one, you have to first rename your old twitter account, as twitter *immediately* releases your old name if you rename your account.

    I killed my twitter account and put a new one up in place explaining that I'm taking an extended break, since twitter makes it really hard to delete all your old tweets.

    I think it would be better if _why's twitter account were in the hands of the LOL guy (assuming he doesn't do anything crazy beyond that), than just sitting there waiting for someone to get their hands on it as soon as his username gets released.

  26. Danny Tatom says:

    I must say, this is a very sad day. I hope that, whatever happened, we hear something soon. I rather enjoyed his writing/art/code. :(

  27. Danny Tatom says:

    Whoops, almost forgot. For anyone wanting the PDF of his poignant guide, here it is:

  28. Peter Cooper says:

    John Resig has written a eulogy to _why. It reads as if he's dead.. a bit early for that me thinks ;-)

  29. Dr Nic says:

    His virtual suicide, like the self-induced death of a friend or loved one, leaves an indescribable hole inside me. I don't like it, I wasn't ready for it, and I don't think its fair that he did it.

    Nonetheless, as a real-life comic book character, in death he will continue to be my muse for me to create fun things that exist only to be shiny and interesting. Long live coding for fun. Thank you _why.

  30. ippa says:

    /me is looping while missing _why.

    This book is made of rabbits and lemonaade...

    come back _why :/

  31. Patrick Tulskie says:

    I learned a lot of pure ruby from _why. It's sad to see him gone, but I'm not convinced it's for good. He seemed to enjoy what he did way too much to make such an abrupt exit. I'm still hanging with the mindset that he got hacked in a bad way or needed some down time and will in fact return.

    Here's hoping he returns. I feel like everyone was too quick to bury him when he might just be temporarily out of service.

  32. Jeremy Stephens says:

    We miss you, _why.

  33. AW says:

    I'm sure this sounds incredibly insensitive, but I'm a bit more worried about the code than the person.

    _why's a grown man, he can disappear like the dude from Ninja Gaiden if he's gotta.

    The code, though... Oey. Thank God for github and incredibly easy forking.

  34. Pierre says:

    I had no idea about that. (I don't tweet...)

    _Why is by far my favorite coder!
    His work is just awesome and cool.
    The Ruby world will definitely be less entertaining without him...

    Hope he gets back quickly! (unless he doesn't really want to, but that'd be really sad!)

  35. Lakshan says:

    It was a terrible news to start the day with! I'm personally enjoyed, benefited from his very much!

    Most of us got into Ruby programming with _Why's poignant guide..Nobody could even think of writing such creative book to teach a programming language..

    Anyway, wishing all the best to _Why's life and future endeavors

  36. Adrian says:

    What??? This is the worst news of the day. Without him the Ruby community will *NEVER* be as good as it was. He's the basic inspiration I needed to see programming under a really, really different - and refreshing angle. My career and I thank you for all you did, man. Come back. Please.

  37. weepy says:

    I thought potion was going to be awesome ... seems there's some forks of some older bits on github, but without someone to guide it, it will likely flouder ..... meanwhile i weep.

  38. Bastes says:

    Truely Why's poignant guide not only gave me much needed insight into the ruby world but also helped me recover the pleasure to code. If his disappearance were to be confirmed it truely would be a really sad day to live through.

    Hoping he's alright after all.

  39. Steve says:

    Let's hope the legend returns.

  40. Briantist says:

    Perhaps he got a job at Microsoft?

  41. Kale says:


  42. Pablo Lorenzzoni says:

    I used to do Python a lot when I first got in touch with Ruby (back in 1.6x times). At first, it didn't impress me: all I did with Ruby could be done easily with Python...

    It was Ruby diverse community that made me turn to Ruby to the point of building all my significant programs with it. And _why is such an important part of this community (and I learned so much by reading his code) that I just can't believe he's gone MIA.

    This is indeed a sad day for all of us, rubyists.

  43. mike in africa says:

    Let's hope he's not dead. There's certainly life beyond GitHub, Twitter and certainly Internet.

  44. taelor says:

    A little story.

    When I was going through college, one of my teachers mentioned this weird thing called Ruby on Rails when I told her I really liked our web programming assignment. I went home that night and looked for something to read about this Ruby thing. The first thing that caught my attention was the Poignant Guide. I was astounded. To think that so much creativity could come from a book on a programming language. I immediately fell in love, not just with Ruby, but the community. I realized that this was my kinda bag, my kinda place.

    I liked that book so much, that I picked up an extra shift at the bar I was working at, just so I could get one of the chunky bacon tee shirts to support this wonderful person. Come to find out, that shirt ended up helping wooing my future girlfriend. She loves that shirt.

    If it wasn't for _why, I wouldn't be in the field I'm in, I wouldn't have this wonderful job, and I definitely wouldn't be enjoying my life as much. You set my path sir _why, and for that I am indebted. Thank you.

  45. George Espinosa says:

    This article answers why I couldn't get to his sites last night. I thought it was my work firewall, but found it strange because typically, it's not a problem.

    @_why... why? Please come back, at least as @_WhyNot. :-)

  46. Peter Wagenet says:

    Like all the rest, it saddens me to learn of _why's disappearance. As so many others, I learned some of my first Ruby from reading his Poignant Guide and I have often recommended it to others. Here's to hoping he comes back.

  47. Lee says:

    That dude is weird...

  48. mike in africa says:

    any1 who didn't enjoy the 'Poignant Guide'? i didn't.

  49. kenny says:

    his final email on the shoes mailing list:

    Okay, wow, hello, I'm very behind on this list, I hope you will
    pardon me. I've been away for the summer, taking a break from

    Well, enough of that, time's up: I hope to concentrate strictly on
    getting Shoes 3 done. While it's disappointing to see what a poor
    job I've done with Shoes, I am going to try to do what I can to
    aright the situation by at least getting us some more speed and
    stability. (As with all of my projects, it's just a toy experiment
    which is full of an unpredictable amount of both the sweet and

  50. cj says:

    Well-- he has put together material and ideas that have had a positive impact on many peoples lives. This, hopefully, continues to be a legacy which grows...many never get near that point.

    Any suggestions on where to pick up shoes?
    I just started to work on the GUI on an app I've been working on and
    intended to start with shoes today....

  51. Peter Cooper says:

    mike: I didn't really "enjoy" it as a Ruby related work (that is, back when I was a beginner I got almost nothing practical out of it) but as a work of art I have a lot of admiration for it and I think it acts a bit like the monolith in 2001 for new Ruby developers.

  52. Tim Harper says:

    I tweeted this, but here it is again: _why lifted his name from Ayn Rand's book "The Fountainhead". Ayn Rand also wrote a book called "Atlas Shrugged", in which 'the producers' just disappeared.

    Is _why the John Galt of our community?

    Who is _why?

  53. Hubert Łępicki says:

    Oh no!

    But I think the guy is OK. If I was going to do anything to myself I wouldn't start with deleting my repositories/accounts. I would have started with killing myself probably.

    He'll come out. Maybe with different name. Maybe with different technology.

    Let's watch out atentee faces on all Java, Haskell and Scala conferences we're on!

  54. John says:

    Personally I don't give a F*** that he disappeared. He contributed greatly to the Ruby community, we'll miss him but so what?? Live it alone!

  55. Peter Cooper says:

    I'm not entirely comfortable about this but I've received several e-mails alluding to Why's real identity, address, and all sorts of information. A couple of people have claimed he's a member of the band The Child Who Was A Keyhole and it does look a bit like him.

    Other e-mails have come up with compelling proofs for why he is Jonathan Gillette. I don't care either way because he's still _why to me, but I'm sharing this mostly so people's hard work in e-mailing me doesn't go to waste. As such, I retract what I say about not buying the Gillette theory as it does seem likely from the evidence I've received.

  56. Miles K. Forrest says:

    I think you're right there, Peter. Looking at the band's album cover it certainly looks like _why's handiwork: . Compare the black cat on the cover to the one in the poignant guide

    I'm reading lots of opinions one way or the other about _why. Ultimately, no one really knows. Because no one knows it's the mystery of it that has everyone's attention (see

    Personally I'd just like to know if he's alive and okay. If he wants to be left alone I won't bother him. _why's work was an inspiration to me, and it was his lead that gave me the guts to do some of my own work. Thanks _why. Really appreciate all you've done.

  57. Peter Cooper says:

    I have a pretty good reason to believe Why is reading this (or has at least visited this page once). I'm not going to share why I have that hunch though.. I could be wrong :)

  58. Danny Tatom says:

    Wether _why left intentionally or not, it seems a bit rude to be doing all this detective work to uncover his real name and life outside his internet persona. It seemed as if he put at least a little effort into separating the two, so can't we just leave it as such? It's the least we could do for all the work he's done for us as a community.

    And on another note, The Child who was a Keyhole are fascinating (You Came to Stay is horribly sad).

  59. Devyn says:

    I am very sad about this. Please come back, _why! I would not be a programmer without your works! Because of you, I was able to start at only 10 yrs old (now i'm 13)

  60. Ronald says:

    I hope he makes the right decision.
    We can not judge about it!

    Good luck _why.

  61. Jake jacobsen says:

    _why, say it's not so. Say you're not gone. How I loved the Poignant Guide! How I loved Shoes! How I loved HacketyHack! _why, if you do see this, thank you, you have made the world a brighter place.

  62. Hubert Łępicki says:

    > Wether _why left intentionally or not, it seems a bit rude to be doing all this detective work to uncover his real name and life outside his internet persona.

    Danny: Not sure if you are right. If you spotted your neighbour to be missing, you would probably call police.

    If _why doesn't want to be found -- he could tell us that. He can do it now and everything will go quiet probably. Otherwise he might be in trouble or something. Maybe he needs money, guns, false identity, place to stay in Mexico or is chased by FBI (or everything at the same time).

    Please note that most people didn't want to find his real identity before he went missing. I think we, as a community, respected his desire to be anonymous -- everything changed now but I see this as a result of people care, not being in need for gossip.

  63. Hady Ahmed says:

    Guys I have an opinion I would like to humbly share. Don't you think that from his last tweet he was a bit angry at us, and by us I mean the developer side of us. Most of us as ruby developers new or experienced have learned so much from him.
    But I've always saw people are like, ooh yea it's _Why, a brilliant man indeed (and the discussion moves on..)
    Maybe he's just angry thinking "now what would you people do when all my creations disappear... "

    back at hacker news >>
    I've suggested that maybe we could start a website for him

    something like maybe a call for his return, talk a bit about his creations and what has he contributed to us (because really so many people are aware of the name and how great the man is but don't know much about why is he that great)
    any suggestions? :)

  64. Why? says:

    "I think we, as a community, respected his desire to be anonymous"

    Why? If you read the collective posts of this "community" you'll see it spends most of its time ripping other people and their projects apart.

    Are only certain people worthy of this respect while others are fair game?

    Read the posts from this community on HN or Reddit on a daily basis and you'll see they're filled with bile and nastiness.

    Who can I step on today in a vain attempt to elevate my own standing?

  65. Rizzo says:

    He is here:

  66. Gaijintendo says:

    My only knowledge of _why was from the poignantguide and he gives a great sense of bonhomie, and is hard not to like. If he is bailing on all things intertubular, I wish him all the best. Not so long ago the internet was the alternative lifestyle.

    I wish him all the best in the real world. I hope he can achieve all he needs to.

  67. Hubert Łępicki says:

    > Read the posts from this community on HN or Reddit on a daily basis and you'll see they're filled with bile and nastiness.

    I don't usually hand in places like that, what I really like are small local ruby communities like our local - where people are usually friendly and helpful, hardly any post is left without answer. But there's no "rock stars" (just a "hard rock star", right, Tomash? ;D ).

    The thing about ruby community is that it is based on strong individuals. I am not going to discuss if it's a good or bad thing - this is how the things evolved. It's also a bit of "freestyle coding", people work on whatever they need in given period of time, and lots of abandonware happens also. People also have the tendency of using "what's hot now", ferret->sphinx, hpricot->nokogiri, capistranod->vlad->capistrano, rails->merb->rails. It would be really sad if Why left because of any of these reasons.

  68. tradyblix says:

    _why is still around, he just turned invisible.

  69. spiralofhope says:

    I don't believe in the Invisible Pink _why !

  70. Jacek Becela says:

    I dont care if he's visible or not - I will always think of him as the person who made me love Ruby and change my career. His Poignant Guide was the most valuable Ruby resource for me. I also understand metaclasses because of him. Thanks _why!

  71. espadrine says:

    The way I see it, Why has decided to be a lucky stiff. And, whatever the current github why account's repository name says, there have never been public `because'. The fact that he is reading these lines is evident: it must have been an important decision to make. But the real worry is: who will drink the Potion? Who will be the next leader? For I believe he did not want to see this project aborted because of his mere disappearance.

  72. Oops says:

    Just repeating the last statement "programming is rather thankless. u see your works become replaced by superior ones in a year. unable to run at all in a few more." I express my full support of this opinion and regret, that it has to be the best programmers who seem to find out quickly. Why_, all the same, stands out once more, as one who sees his craft and energy wasted in a private non-profit "experiment", while all of us want to fiercely object. If my opinion is of any use at all, take this: Please accept a compliment (or a dozen compliments) and please tolerate, that a software, a software-project and any creative work that you do, is dead stuff and produces dead stuff. It will *never* be able to thank you. We do. If your work was not for the people, then you had to be disappointed anyway. We quite enjoy it. Sorry.

  73. peter says:

    Guys, he's chanting and chating about ruby with Michael right now!

  74. Mike Hoskins says:

    Let's hope he disappears, and then reappears the way Willy Wonka did.

    So, who's going to be the little coder who inherits his knowledge and wealth? Otherwise, we're in a predicament.... :-(

  75. Martin says:

    @peter If that's true, did he tell him about the reason for all of this?

  76. fwoncn says:

    _why is one of the most talented man I have ever seen. not only because of his astonishing code, illustration, composing, but also (more important) his brilliant view of the whole world (after seriously read almost all of his blogs)
    what I'm worried about most is the genius get trouble with himself...

  77. _why says:

    I'm Here!

  78. Pablo Q. says:

    Ya volvió _why???

  79. Kristleifur Daðason says:

    Why don't we give him a week or two. Or a dozen days.

  80. Jim Deville says:

    Why was awesome. It was due to him that I got into Ruby. I hope he comes back, but if he doesn't I hope he enjoys his new endeavors.

  81. max says:

    perhaps he put so much time into the Ruby community only to realize it was all for not. kind of a hard pill to swallow. at least he didn't go out like *** (or maybe he should have, if you're going to exit at least go out with a bang)

  82. see-el-free-i says:

    Straight up, no chaser:

    _why: I love you. I lost my love of programming back in the early 90's, beaten down and just too saddened by the cookie-cutter corpocracy cultures that demeaned coffee lovers everwhere on planet3. No more coding to pay the bills so I could play the music I want to play-- years spent painting houses and jamming out instead.

    Cut to 2006--
    Had a 12 year old friend who wanted to learn programming. Read 'Why Johnny can't Code'. Cried while I got my Apple II+ serial #0000333 out of the closet. Searched the web. Found hackety-hack, ruby, divine madness in your hands--

    Woke up laughing. Coding for a living, teaching kids and anyone else who wants to learn how to hack. Jamming the good tunes coming through, creative flux monumental.

    You never know what will happen when you let loose and show your soul with all its quirky zigzags all naked and shiny like that. You never know the good you do, really. One kind word you don't remember might just have saved a life. One time you almost gave some asshole in traffic the finger, but laughed instead. Butterflies flapping chaos into mountains of future chunky bacon coated goodness, shining down from skies of azure into keyboards of the future, hacking freedom from the fingers of the grey-faced humorless robots, laughing all the way to new life, new dreams, new futures of inconceivably absurd wonderfulness.

    Ya changed my life, _why, and the life of the kids in my life who are hacking away at their futures while I type. Ya changed the life of the Ethiopian immigrant checkout guy in the scary dangerous convenience store on my corner, who is learning to hack too, all 'cos he asked what I do for a living, and I told him how I learned how to code again after almost 20 years off for bad behavior...

    You are so, so loved. Disappear or reappear when you choose, it's all up to you. It's a free will universe, all the way, all the time, and I know you know that.

    Just know this: you made a real difference in my life, and it's made a real difference in other lives, and the ripples ain't done spreading yet.

    ever your faithful admirer


  83. Stefano Diem Benatti says:

    Hey _why, if you are reading this, i would like to express my gratitude for your work. I started ruby not long ago, about 1 and a half year ago, and your work was what really got it working for me. Poignant guide is just awesome, the best programming book ever by far. I also think its one of the best books in general. And try ruby on your browser was like that present that you got in some Christmas as a kid, that got your eyes sparkling with excitement to play with it.

    You are certainly a visionary, with a unique view of ruby and programming. My own perspective would be different, if it weren't for your efforts to make ruby and programming more accessible and appealing to beginners and non techies, and to bring back some of the hacking hype back to life.

    I can't know of your reasons for quitting, but being the guy that you are, i believe you did so for a purpose not related to your personal life, but more likely to improve the community in some way.

    And so i want to thank you for everything you have done! It rocks!
    I hope you are as successful on you next work/hobby/project as you were in the ones published under _why, and that you live a long, happy and prosperous life

  84. Darren says:

    suicide is selfish, even if its virtual

  85. Oren Shani says:

    That is really odd. I hope he is OK somewhere in the known universe.

    Why, if you read this, just wanted to say, "So long and thank you for the carps".

  86. Kafetist says:

    F### you _why. I hate you.

    Come back..

  87. miekl says:

    I used to try to program in junior high and high school, then I went to college for English & philosophy and forgot about that stuff. After graduating, I discovered Ruby through _why's poignant guide and it seemed to fill in the gaps between all these disciplines. I don't know why programming isn't part of the liberal arts curriculum. More of those people should be learning this stuff. _why convinced me of that and rekindled my love for programming. I hope he's doing well. Whether or not he comes back, I think he started something important and I hope the community will take that ball and run with it.

  88. _notwhy says:

    maybe he is just depressed.

    also, he could've easily made some cash using the skills he had , and even selling his educational materials.

    programming is "thankless" ? looks like he forgot that labor can be traded for capital income. no idiot spends all his labor for free.

    you did it to yourself why, and you leave us with an half assed legacy.

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